Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Which Maggie Reviews the Hunger Games('s Audience)

The other day, VH1 asked me to do a review of the Hunger Games movie, which I did. Actually, the one that went live yesterday (read it here) is my second version of the review. I had to rewrite it because my first review that I dashed out, on re-read, was about the audience. When I confessed on Facebook that I'd had to throw out that first version, Facebook asked me if I'd post it here. So I will. But be warned, it's sort of bitter and opinionated.

Below are my original, just-seen-the-movie, unedited thoughts:


I’m pleased that everyone in the world now knows what the Hunger Games is about because it spares me that awkward moment of trying to explain that it’s about kids killing kids on national television. Some people just can’t buy into the concept. “It’s too implausible,” they would always say. “Who would watch kids killing kids on TV?”

I want you to hold that thought.

Opening night. The ever-growing line to get in made my teen author heart glad. It was made up of people of every size, shape, color, age, and race. Somehow, this incredibly intelligent YA book, skewering America’s love of voyeurism (reality TV, tabloids, shock bloggers) had managed to speak to all of them. I felt warm in the general direction of all my fellow Americans.

It didn’t take me long to feel warm in the general direction of the movie, either. Yes, the content of the first book was edited to fit into two hours, but it was more cutting than altering, and the spirit of each scene was so vibrantly attuned to the text that it felt as if the director had reached inside my head and placed my thoughts onscreen. Insert deja vu here. About twenty minutes into the film, I realized I hadn’t spent even a second analyzing the film from the point of view of a non-reader.

Get yourself together, Stiefvater! I exhorted myself. You’re supposed to be reviewing this movie for VH1! NOW IS NO TIME FOR RABID FANGIRLING.

But it didn’t work. I can’t separate my experience as a reader from my experience as movie-goer. I can’t even tell you what I thought worked the best about this adaptation. The casting (Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickerman was genius)? The sets (with the exception of the strangely imagined cornucopia, the poverty of District 12 and the opulence of the Capital were awesomely done)? The acting (I can’t describe how moving it was to see Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence] begin shaking right before entering the arena)?

Basically, this: I cannot imagine a reader being unhappy with this adaptation. It maintains the spirit of the original so well.

That disturbing question lurked, though: “who would watch kids killing kids?” I couldn’t forget, as I sat in that theater, that I was. I told myself it was different for viewers in America versus viewers in Panem. Because in America, in this theater, we knew what this movie was trying to say. 

And then one of the tributes — the kids in the arena — was murdered. Though every kid onscreen was now a killer, this character was responsible for the death of one of the more sympathetic tributes, and she’d even seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, her neck got snapped.

Around me, the theater erupted in applause.


As I sat there with my hands pressed into my thighs, that’s when I realized just how well the film makers had done their job. Like the Gamemaker, they’d carefully monitored audience perception of good and bad, success and failure. Through editing and music and selective storytelling, they made villains and heroes of twenty-four victims. They had exactly proved the scathing point of the book; that we glossy and well-cared for members of the Capital could be made to enjoy watching a teen die.

My verdict? It’s a crazy-good piece of film-making about the insanity of kids killing kids.

Who would watch something like that?

Turns out, I would. But I’m still not going to clap over it.

Since writing this first review, too, I've had several people tell me that the movie just wasn't violent enough. They would've preferred to see more gore in order to enjoy it. I don't think I have to embellish my previous review in order for anyone to know my thoughts on that.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The Curiosities: A Collection of StoriesI have been a slightly to moderately bad blogger in the past few months, and I apologize. Not because I've been pretty sparse with my posting, because there have been good reasons for it, but because I haven't been able to TELL YOU about so many of the reasons. I'm revoltingly pleased to be able to share one of the reasons with you now. Here's the cover of THE CURIOSITIES: A COLLECTION OF STORIES, which is a collaboration with Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton. Many people will recognize that we've been collaborating online for quite awhile, posting several hundred of our stories over at Merry Sisters of Fate.

Well, we got to talking about doing an anthology that offered the online stories in a print version . . . and something more. We wanted to show the behind-the-scenes process of being Merry Sisters of Fate, which is about a lot more than posting stories online. Because of course Brenna and Tessa are also my critique partners. They read every stitch of writing I do before my editor ever lays eyes on it. They know every project I have in the works for the next six years. They know everything about my writing life.

And it's sort of mutual.

And this book tries to show that. Because not only are there some of our favorite stories from the past few years, but there are also three exclusive stories, essays on our critique relationship, and, most importantly, comments in the margins from all of us. Basically it's a look inside our brains. Here's two samples:

page 51
page 32

Anyway, I'm really REALLY pleased with how it's turned out. And I'm holding an advanced review copy in my hand RIGHT THIS SECOND. And if you want to win one, we're giving them away over at Merry Sisters of Fate. And even if you don't want to win one, I hope you'll let me know what you think about the cover and contents!

P. S. I saw Hunger Games.
P. P. S. More about that later.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Five Things About CODE NAME VERITY

I’ll confess right up front that I’m not usually a big historical fiction fan. I realize this seems somewhat hypocritical of me, as I was a history major in college and adore history, but a lot of times, I find historical fiction more impenetrable than a primary source document. The characters either don’t feel like real people to me, or they feel like modern people to me. I get distrated by historical info-dumps and bored by epic scale machinations. Basically, I like my historical fiction very personal and very intimate. So when I got sent a copy of CODE NAME VERITY, I thought, okay. I’ll read twenty pages and then I’ll give it to my sister.

But my sister has not yet gotten this book, because I don’t want to let it out of my house yet. I adored it.

1. First of all, I believe it. The people feel like real people to me, and the details feel like real details. ARE they real details? Possibly not. We all slip up on our research sometimes, but man, this stuff feels genuine. The main character’s best friend is a pilot, and that part I knew was real even before I read that Elizabeth Wein had a pilot's license. I could feel the real-life love and knowledge of flying seeping through the pages. It was grand.

2. It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve read before — certainly not in YA. Not just in genre or in subject matter, but just . . . the characters are unique and specific people and the situations they’re in are unique and specific. It feels like I looked through a tiny window into a real life, and that’s just not something you can cut and paste.

3. As with all my favorite books, it rewards the careful reader. If an author can make me gasp once, it’s likely that novel is ending up on my favorites shelf. If an author can make me gasp THREE TIMES, either the author is making me read their novel underwater or it’s really cleverly done. This one’s really cleverly done. It was a three-gasper. When was the last time I read a three gasper? I don’t remember. Maybe when I read THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST underwater . . . Now, that said, CODE NAME VERITY is not a fast read. If you go into it expecting to whip through it in an evening or even two, you’re not doing it justice. Give the characters some time to infest your heart.

4. It’s hard, but not harrowing. This is worth pointing out, because the central premise is that the narrator has been shot down over occupied France and is now being tortured for her confession. It could be awful. Sort of like BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, which I also loved, but would never read again because of how hard it was. This book, on the other hand — not only does it have so many lovely and sweeping moments, but it’s also surprisingly funny. I laughed out loud several times. Thought when I tried to explain to Lover why I was laughing, I invariably failed. LOVER: I thought you said she was being tortured? ME: Yeah, but, the Hitler line, it . . . never mind.

5. It stuck with me. This, to me, is the Holy Grail of novels. I love some novels and forget them the moment they’re out of my sight. Other novels I love and then they become part of me for days or weeks or forever. I will be reminded of them at the strangest moments. CODE NAME VERITY does more than stick with me. It haunts me. I just can’t recommend it enough. I can’t even make this recommendation funny. I love it too much.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Images from The Raven Boys Trailer

This past week, I've begun work in earnest on my book trailer for The Raven Boys. This one's exciting and terrifying because I'm a) returning to my artistic roots, colored pencil (as you can see, this used to be a Thing for Me), and b) because I'm doing more traditional animation, which means way more frames than ever before. Here are a few sneak stills from the trailer so far:

Blue, for The Raven Boys Trailer
Hunting for Clues
Three Card Tarot
Blue Profile for The Raven Boys Trailer
Skull Head from The Raven Boys

I've already accidentally eaten a big swath of paint off my desk with my natural turpenoid. Oh, it feels good to be making art again.

As always, you can find out more about The Raven Boys on my site.

Monday, March 12, 2012

In Which Maggie Asks "Any Questions?"

Today I was scraping chunks of files off my desktop and I realized I had a document that was called "Reader Questions" that I'd been keeping to answer on the blog. I opened it and was delighted to discover that I had been studious by accident — I'd already answered all of the questions in it. So I figure today is a good day to ask if you have any questions you'd like to see me tackle on the blog (keeping in mind I answered a bunch HERE recently).

This is also where I am going to embed a video that the entire world has seen, but just in case you haven't you must. It combines many of my loves: absurdly complicated videos, alt rock, and CARS.

The only thing that would make that better is if it had been done in a Camaro. My Camaro, possibly.

Loki in the Corn

Oh, heck, and while I'm spamming you. Go buy the latest album by Fun., if you haven't yet. This is what they sound like live, and on the album, they are like that + Queen + summer + awesome. Just do it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March/ April events (VA, CO, TX & CA)

People at the launch!

I have updated my March/ April events (I always add them here as soon I get the details of them) so I figured I'd better post them here. I've been enjoying my three months of hermit-like behavior over the winter but I'll confess my feet are itchy as well.

March 16, speaker: Virginia State Reading Association Conference
Richmond, VA
(conference for educations, librarians, booksellers; open to public with conference registration)

March 31, keynote speaker: Colorado Teen Literature Festival
Denver, CO

April 14, Houston Teen Book Con
Houston, TX

April 16, This is Teen Signing with Siobhan Vivian & Elizabeth Eulberg
Book People
Austin, TX

April 19, This is Teen Signing with David Levithan, Libba Bray, Pete Hautman & Siobhan Vivian
Mrs. Nelson's Toy & Book Shop
La Verne, CA

April 21-22, LA Times Book Festival

Monday, April 23rd, Printz Event with John Corey Whaley
Burbank Public Library—Buena Vista Branch auditorium
300 N. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91505

April 24, Event with Fellow Printz Winners John Corey Whaley & Daniel Handler
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA

April 25, NYMBC presents the Printz Winners
Books Inc, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA

I would like to point out the awesomeness of folks that I am doing group events with here, including my peep Libba Bray, who was with me on This is Teen events last year, and John Corey Whaley, whose book I just read and adored, and David Levithan, my fearless editor at Scholastic.

Hopefully I'll see some of you folks there. If you do come out to see me, please let me know when I know you from the blog! I don't remember everybody's handles online, but I remember a lot . . . and I remember a lot of icons. It makes me feel cozy when I know I'm among blog readers.

Texas! Whoo! San Fran! Whoo! Actually, all of it: whoo!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Knock Knock. Who's There? Peanut.

My Jack Russell Terrier Peanut is a pretty magical animal.
1. She is a friend to all cats. Indeed, Peanut is a friend to all animals in God’s green earth that are smaller than her, because animals larger in size to her are Meanies. There is a memo going around the planet Jack Russells are meant to have keen hunting instinct and killer urges, but Peanut was snuggling a marmot or something that day and missed it.

2. She has one black nipple. I think this is pretty special, because Peanut was not born with The Black Tittie. She went her entire life with a pink and pleasantly cow printed undercarriage until she got pregnant, when one of her nipples became both black and revoltingly misshapen, sort of like The Nothing from The Neverending Story. There was nothing to be done for it, the vet said, but blog about it, so she still has it to this day. Also, she has nine of them in total. Because even numbers are for other dogs.

3. Do you know how animals have keen senses of intuition that make them highly tuned pronosticators of natural disasters? Not Peanut. Peanut is concerned about only two things in this world: 1) animals larger than herself and 2) knocking sounds. A knocking sound could mean someone at the door, and someone at the door means Peanut has to bark, and when Peanut barks, it surprises and shocks her, which means, therefore, all knocking sounds effectively surprise and shock her. And her detector is set pretty low. Examples of knocking sounds include fingers drumming on a desk, a shin hitting a chair, a cat scratching its neck, and large men testing weapons ten miles away at the Naval Weapons Center.

4. Aside from being Endlessly Kind, Slightly Defomed, and Occasionally Anxious, Peanut is Intensely Faithful. She spends most of her time sleeping beside by desk because if I put her out back, she just jumps the fence, runs around front, and peers anxiously in my office windows until I cannot stand her eye-boring supernatural gaze and let her in to sleep under my desk again. Thing 2 asked me once, “Mama? Why do Peanut and the cat follow you to the bathroom?”

I do not know, Thing 2. I do not know.

Peanut also adores car rides, which was why we decided recently to take her to see Future House of Stiefvater. As you’ll recall from my post about cows, Lover & I have just bought our first house, two hours away from our current one. Unfortunately, we cannot move into Future House of Stiefvater until May. This fact pains us, and so we are forced to invent several reasons each month to visit the house. Despite the fact that we have a perfectly reasonable moving date with a moving van, we instead gorge personal vehicles with boxes of books and toilet paper and anything else remotely car-sized and set off on the journey across the state. On one of these trips, we decided to take Peanut, as she had an uncanny response to our last move. Namely, despite having never been to our new house, she correctly identified it through a seriously of anxious whines, random quivers, and clawing at car windows as soon as we began to approach it. Magical!

Of course we wanted to see if she’d do it again. So in the car she went. Peanut’s a great traveler, generally adopting one of two positions.

A) the origami animal. This position takes place in the passenger seat or between the Things in the backseat and requires a lot of folding.
B) the noble beast. If you are thinking “that looks a lot like Kate Winslet in Titanic,” we’re thinking the same thing. This position occurs with her front paws on the center console and the air conditioning rushing past her luxurious hair.

Unfortunately for us on this particular day, Peanut was feeling a bit . . . gassy. Ordinarily, members of the Stiefvater household have plenty of time to get clear of Peanut’s flatulence, because if she hears herself fart, she considers it a knocking sound, and so she will begin to bark. Sadly for us, her farts this day were silent killers.

So we were all nearly perished by the time we got to the general vicinity of The Future Home of Stiefvater. Despite our critical shortness of breath, however, we were all eager to see if Peanut’s magic house-identifying powers were still in full force. As we covered the last twenty miles, conversation died down. None of us wanted to risk saying anything that might tip Peanut off. We wanted to see the master at work. No hints.

The following happened.

And there you have it. Peanut is magical and continues to be magical. Also, in case you’re wondering, my sense of smell is just now returning.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Critique Partner Love Connection

I've been asked several times in the last few months if I would do another critique partner love connection on my blog and I now have enough requests that I'm going to go ahead and do it. I did one WAY back when and another last year and, looking at it, I find that the wording on both of those still mostly applies, so here we go:

Okay. As y'all know, I have two critique partners Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff whom I love dearly. They rip and tear at my ms with everything they have in them and they read what I read and love what I love and . . .well, after a long critique partner search, I have learned much about what I need in crit partners, and they are what I need.

However, it's come to my attention that not all of my blog readers have found what they need, and they're having a hard time putting out a call for crit partners on their own blogs because of traffic. Some of them are really good too -- agented or published or close to agented or published, and they need someone at that level. Others are just starting out.

So I thought I might do a Crit Partner Love Connection here on my blog, if anybody's looking. This is PRECISELY the way I found Tessa and Brenna.

Here are the rules, such as I ever have rules:

Post a comment saying the age range (adult, YA, MG), a brief, one-sentence blurb about your book or just the genre if you don't want to share more than that, and whether or not you have an agent, etc. Also the last book that you read that you loved that you feel epitomizes you as a reader.

Then, if someone sounds appealing to you, you send them a message saying so and find out if it's mutual. If it is, you exchange the first 50 pages of your manuscripts, critique them, and return said critiques. If either of you doesn't feel like the crit relationship is working at that point, you get to smile and say thanks and walk away without any questions asked. That's the way it works.

NOTE: I myself am not looking for critters. Two partners is enough for me -- I can't keep up with anymore. I recommend definitely two or three partners for best results. That way when someone says "this sucks!" and someone else says "does not!" you can be the tie breaker. But if they both say "this sucks!" and you say "does not!" it means you're wrong. ;)

Okay. Go! Any questions?

From Rough to Final, Continued

You might recall that ten authors helpfully showed off their process from rough draft to final earlier this year. I am pleased to report that I have twp others to add -- Gayle Forman, author of IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT, dissected a chapter of the latter. It felt rather familiar to me, because she talks about how changing a character's motivations and mood can entirely change the tone of a chapter, even if the events stay mostly the same. That was something I found out a lot when I was editing FOREVER. Anyway, you can read the entire blog post here:

And Melissa Marr also shared two blog posts she'd done in a very similar way. Stunningly, they are HANDWRITTEN.

And the original post with the other ten authors:

And the original original post where I dissect a short chapter of THE SCORPIO RACES

Speaking of other blasts from the past, I was asked today on Twitter how I found my writing critique partners. I was also asked by someone else if I'd be doing another Critique Partner Love Connection this year. I think I will do that posthaste. Hold on for that.
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